Holistic: [adj] Emphasizing the importance of the whole and the interdependence of its parts.

Holistic Theory: [noun] The theory that the parts of any whole should be considered in relation to the whole, and that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Although "holistic" is often used to describe a particular approach to medicine (in which the emphasis is on treatment of the whole individual), it is also appropriate to apply it to other disciplines, including search engine marketing (SEM).

Three Primary Components

SEM consists of three major components (and many minor ones, but we won't touch on them here), and they are often used individually to great effect. But only when the three are effectively used in unison does the whole become greater than the sum of its parts.

The following are the primary components of SEM:

  1. Pay-per-click (PPC). Also referred to as pay-for-performance, PPC is very close to a pure form of advertising. Companies bid to have their ad copy show up for specific search terms related to their business. That ad copy usually shows up in a special section of the search engine results page, typically labeled "sponsored." Companies that use PPC are rewarded with targeted visitors to their Web sites and have to pay the bid amount for each visitor they receive.

  2. Natural search engine optimization (SEO). Searchers who understand the difference often consider PPC advertising less trustworthy than natural search results. These ostensibly nonbiased search results can be likened to articles in a trade magazine, while "sponsored" results can be likened to advertisements. The mention of a company in an article will usually garner a more favorable impression than a company's advertisement in the same magazine.

  3. Web site conversion. The most overlooked of the three components, Web site conversion is equal in importance to the other two. It is the art and science of determining predominant user behavior on your site and trying to improve it—in other words, attempting to influence visitors to take a specific action on your site that eventually leads to a sale.

How They Work Together

Although each of these components can, by themselves, return excellent results, the power of each is multiplied when they are used effectively together. The results returned by any combination of the three pieces applied simultaneously will almost always surpass the collective results of the same pieces applied separately.

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Scott Buresh is founder and CEO of Medium Blue, an award-winning search engine optimization company.

LinkedIn: Scott Buresh